’Tis the season of films full of portent. Following menacingly on the heels of clever fright-fest Ghost Stories, starring Martin Freeman, and John Krasinski’s critically acclaimed silent horror A Quiet Place, comes Beast, a British low-budget independent flick that serves up a deliciously prickly story of loss of innocence, emotional torment and murder.
The film, which was made with Lottery money funnelled through the BFI and narrowly missed out on the £50,000 IWC Filmmaker Bursary Award last year, is the impressively assured directorial feature debut of Michael Pearce (who also wrote), and stars up-and-comers Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn, both of whom sizzle cast as outsiders in a small Jersey community imperilled by the attacks of a serial killer tracking down teenage girls.
It follows the story of the gamine Moll (Buckley), a twentysomething woman still trapped in an abusive family relationship (Geraldine James scatters a little stardust and oodles of class playing her vicious, controlling mother), who finds her escape in a bit of local rough (Flynn), the off-grid poacher Pascal, who bristles with dangerous machismo from the get-go.
Plot and pace develop fitfully – in a good way – and the storm slowly engulfing the bucolic island is stirred up brilliantly by Benjamin Kracun’s whispy cinematography. There are echoes of Broadchurch in the use of British coastal beauty as a backdrop to acts of unspeakable darkness, as Buckley and Flynn lead us on a twisted journey of damage and destruction.
The performances of the two leads are both the joy and the big surprise of the film. Flynn, who will be better known to some as the frontman of Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit, is 35, Buckley 28. How have we not heard more of these two? Flynn has the look of a late bloomer – his past credits, which include Lovesick (Netflix’s recommissioned version of Channel 4’s risibly titled Scrotal Recall) are part of the answer. Buckley’s breakthrough came in Taboo last year, and she’s currently on our screens picking up plaudits playing the lead in The Woman in White. Flynn will star in ITV’s eagerly awaited adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, slated for the autumn. History may yet record Beast as a watershed moment for both.
Beast could be 10 minutes shorter and wanes briefly two thirds of the way in, but ultimately it delivers, scoring for both its refusal to dial in a two-plus-two whodunnit, and for not falling foul of that tiresome arthouse habit of signing off without a third act. Instead, it’s a taut, ambiguous tale that leaves us to examine the beast inside us all.
Beast opens on April 27